My friend Max got himself a bad name over that business with the pig and nearly got run out of town. It was a tragic set of circumstances, a very sad affair; at least that’s what somebody said.
The trouble had started during the summer, when Max became convinced that he was being haunted by his father’s ghost. It had appeared to him on a moonlit parapet, screaming blue murder and rattling some chains, only to fade with the morning mist like a dream. I think that’s how the story goes; Max made a song and dance about it at the time. Afterwards his behaviour had grown increasingly strange. The most unpleasant sign of this was the pig’s head that he began carrying around with him. It was one of the most repulsive things that I’ve ever seen: it had marbles for eyes and skin painted gold, a red ribbon tied in a bow through the snout. Max took the wretched thing with him everywhere that he went. Apparently his father’s ghost had taken up residence within. He said that it talked to him, long into the night, ranting and raving, crazed, bent on revenge.
Inevitably, things went from bad to worse; the pig, it seemed, did not feel the need for discretion in these exchanges. And Max, of course, could not help but reply.
At first he only talked to the pig when he thought no one else was around, surreptitious asides and tight-lipped remarks, but after a while he gave up any reserve. In the street, on the bus, it was a horrible sight; passers-by couldn’t move far enough away.
The whole disgraceful episode lasted for just over a month. By coincidence, I’d bumped into Max on the day that he first got the pig’s head. At the time he’d stuffed it into a little plastic bag which was too small for the pig’s head; you could see the snout all squashed up inside the plastic, the ears poking out from the top. It had been raining that day, too, and the rain had run down the pig’s ears into the head, rinsing out the dried blood from the skull. The blood had then leaked out the bottom of the bag, leaving a trail zigzagging back down the road.
It was the first time I’d seen Max for some weeks. He didn’t mention the pig’s head. Frankly, he didn’t look well. “Going on a date, Max?’ I asked, and pointed at the bag.
He didn’t answer. I don’t think he understood. He just stared at me, twitching, with pigs’ blood dripping on his shoes. It looked to me like he was trying to ignore something; I’m pretty sure that it was the pig. I could hear him muttering to himself as he walked away. After that, I’d see him around every so often, but mostly I tried to keep out of his way.
The next time I spoke to him he’d grown a beard.
“I’ve grown a beard,” he said.
The pig’s head was tucked under his arm. It wasn’t looking too good; the paint had begun to peel.
‘I’ve grown a beard,” he said again.
“Yes,” I replied. “It goes with the pig.”
“Yes,” he said.
There was a pause. He stared intently at my neck. I noticed that he was only wearing the one shoe.
“How was the date?” I asked him.
There was another pause.
“Yes,” he said, clearly struggling not to scream.
I left him to it.
The next day I found him down by the canal, beating the pig’s head against a wall. He was soaking wet and covered in mud, screaming loudly, half-deranged.
“Jesus, Max,” I said. “Give it a rest. People will think you’re insane.”
“Garrgghhh!!!!” he cried, tugging at his hair. “You should hear the dirty things that he says.”
He waved the battered lump of pig in my direction; it was a very sorry sight. One of the marble eyes popped out and rolled down a drain. The snout was now crooked and black.
“That’s your dad, Max,” I said. “Don’t treat him like that. Think of all the good times instead.”
Max sobbed loudly. Compassion got the better of me. I took the pig’s head from him and put it in a bin. After that, we went for a walk. I took Max for a ride on the Ferris wheel that had just come to town. As we looked down over the streets and houses, I pointed out the flats where he lived. This seemed to calm his nerves a little and he appeared much happier than I’d seen him in weeks.
It would be nice to think it ended like that, but he just went back later and got his dad from the bin.